Following outbreaks in six US states, Tennessee is the latest to report that there’s been an outbreak of Hepatitis A. There have been 14 confirmed cases in Nashville this year. The majority of the lab tested cases across all the affected states are believed to be linked – being genetically identical or similar to each other.
Which states are affected?
Since March 2017, six states have had confirmed outbreaks of Hepatitis A. They are:
- California – This was the first state to announce an outbreak back in 2016. There have been 704 confirmed cases and 21 fatalities. The local health authorities say that they are continuing to monitor the situation and cases will be included in the state’s annual surveillance report. According to the California Department of Public Health website: “The majority of people who have been infected with hepatitis A virus in this outbreak are people experiencing homelessness and/or using illicit drugs in settings of limited sanitation. Other states are experiencing outbreaks in similar populations of at-risk people.”
- Michigan – Since the outbreak was confirmed in Michigan in August 2016, there have been 837 confirmed cases and 27 fatalities. The state has reported that they are continuing to see a growing number of new cases.
- Kentucky – An outbreak was confirmed in November last year. So far there have 629 reported cases, which have resulted in 401 hospitalisations and 6 deaths. Dr. Jeffrey Howard, acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health said in a statement: “Similar to hepatitis A outbreaks in other states, the primary risk factors have been homelessness and illicit drug use. It’s a rare disease. This outbreak is occurring across the country. I suspect many, many states across the country will declare an outbreak, and they will see a rising number of cases.”
- Indiana – There’s been a total of 107 cases related to this outbreak of Hepatitis A in Indiana, resulting in 51 hospitalisations.
- Utah – Since the outbreak in Utah in January 2017, there have been 266 confirmed cases and two deaths. “In response to the outbreak, public health officials have been working to identify cases and contacts, provide education, and ensure opportunities for vaccination of close contacts to cases and vulnerable populations,” according to state health authorities.
- West Virginia – As of May 23rd, there have been 106 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A in the state of West Virginia. The state health department has responded by providing additional vaccination clinics.
- Tennessee – Although there has still been a relatively low number of cases, the CDC are still monitoring the situation. According to Brian Todd, a spokesman for Music City’s Metro Public Health Department: “National experts at CDC are involved and providing laboratory testing and technical consultation and support as needed. Part of the overall effort is to try to identify the source of the outbreak; however, it is too early to make that determination.”
Preventing the disease spreading
Hepatitis A is usually spread through contaminated water or food; sometimes it can spread through close contact with an infected person or with poor hygiene. Health officials agree that the best way of preventing new infections is by vaccination. The CDC says that although the demand for the vaccine is growing, currently there is still enough supply. They added that the current strategy is to target high risk groups, including the homeless and drug users, and by working with manufacturers to monitor demand. CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said: “The supply for children is fine, and there is enough adult supply to meet demand. As for people talking to their doctors, it would depend on whether their doctor stocks the vaccine.”